Congress Votes to Remove Word ‘Lunatic’ from Law

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The word “lunatic” will be stricken from federal law under legislation that passed the House on Wednesday and is headed to President Obama for his signature.

The Congressional action is the latest effort to remove language from federal law that has become outdated or is considered demeaning. Two years ago Congress took out references to “mental retardation.”

“The term ‘lunatic' holds a place in antiquity and should no longer have a prominent place in our U.S. code,” said Representative Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia, shortly before the 398-to-1 vote in the House. The word, derived from the Latin word from moon, arises from ancient beliefs that people could become “moonstruck” by lunar movements.

The legislation cites one instance in banking regulation that refers to the authority of a bank to act as a “committee of estates of lunatics” on guardianship issues.

The Senate passed the measure in May; it was sponsored by Senators Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, and Michael D. Crapo, Republican of Idaho.

“Federal law should reflect the 21st century understanding of mental illness and disease, and that the continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. code,” Mr. Conrad said.

The legislation had the backing of mental health groups, including the coalition organization Mental Health Liaison Group, which said that using outdated and offensive terms served “to perpetuate this stigmatization” against people with mental health conditions.

The lone “no” vote was cast by Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, who said in a statement that “not only should we not eliminate the word ‘lunatic' from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy, we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington.”

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